Navigating the pandemic path

Kate Ashbrook at the kissing gate she installed at Cobstone Hill, Turville, in the ChilternsIn early March, I was lucky enough to be at Ramblers’ Scottish Council. It was the last major Ramblers event before coronavirus was declared a pandemic – and it seems a long time ago now. I immensely enjoyed hearing about the successes of different groups across Scotland, walking along the beach in North Berwick and spending time with so many terrific volunteers and members. 

Even after all these years, I’m still amazed by the passion, dedication and hard work of Ramblers’ volunteers and members, and I always value the time I spend with you.

At Scottish Council we didn’t really know what was around the corner. We were being careful – no handshakes and lots of hand sanitiser – but I don’t think any of us expected what would come next. The months of lockdown, the changes to our way of life and the impact on individuals and families up and down the country – and around the world – have been quite overwhelming. 

It’s during these difficult times that I have found comfort and solace in walking and nature, and I hope that you have too, despite being exiled from your friends.

In the past few weeks, as Ramblers’ activities have slowly restarted, I’ve been reflecting on what this means for this wonderful organisation of ours. 

It has not been an easy journey. With restrictions varying across England, Scotland and Wales, staff and volunteers have had to wrestle with different government guidelines in different locations. As I write this, groups of up to 30 can walk together in England and Wales, while group sizes are capped at 15 people from five households in Scotland. But, each time government guidelines change, it’s reassuring to know our staff team is working closely with the relevant governing bodies and other partners to establish the implications for the Ramblers – and provide us all with the best possible guidance. 

And I’m so glad we’ve got to the point where that guidance means group walks are an option again – for those who are ready.

The pandemic has accelerated some changes we’ve needed to make for some time, and change is always hard. We are about freedom, fresh air and the joy of walking, so it’s difficult when paperwork and processes seem to get in the way. But, in order to continue walking and doing what we love, we have to adjust and be flexible. 

It might take us all time to get used to slightly different ways of doing things – just as it has done in the rest of our lives. But we are a strong organisation and I know we’ll rally.

I want to say a big thank you to our fabulous walk leaders across England, Scotland and Wales. Throughout the three nations a huge amount of work goes into planning enjoyable walks.  I hope our walk leaders know how much they are appreciated and valued. They are a highly skilled bunch and we’re lucky to have such expertise in our charity.

The lockdown and restricted movement have demonstrated as never before the importance of local paths and green spaces, and our work in protecting them for all to enjoy.  Few of those who have newly discovered their local paths realise just how much work our volunteers do to keep them open: fighting hostile changes, lobbying their councils, and carrying out physical work – and we should celebrate all that we achieve and the difference we make. So I give a huge and heartfelt thank you to all our volunteers who campaign so tirelessly to enable everyone to enjoy walking.

I became a trustee of the Ramblers in the 1980s because I loved the sense of freedom that walking brings and what the Ramblers stand for – and I’m glad that through these turbulent times, the Ramblers has remained a constant for me.  

As we navigate this seemingly-endless pandemic path, I know we’ll get through this together – making the changes we need to make, slowly restarting the activities we love and making contact with those who have discovered the joy of walking during lockdown—they too need to be part of the Ramblers’ family. 

I can’t wait to be walking and campaigning with you again in the near future. 

Stay safe, keep walking and keep in touch.


Alan Norton


I have just read your Blog, starting with your comments on Scottish Council.

It really is excellent. :-))

I think that often Ramblers is a bit formal, when one of the reasons that most of us walk / volunteer is the pleasure of the company of the other members (well, most of them !! ) I think your piece does get over the pleasure you get from meeting with others, as well as from getting out.

best wishes,